My Friend Ganesha. Director: Rajiv Ruia. Players: Ahsaas Channa, Kiran Janjani, Arun Bakshi, Sheetal Shah, Upasana Singh. DVD (Rainbow). Hindi w/ English sub-titles. Suitable for all ages.
Historically, Hindi flicks geared towards children have often focused either on poverty (Salaam Bombay; Dosti) or illness (Dil Ek Mandir; anything with sibling child-stars Honey and Daisy Irani in their heyday). The well-made My Friend Ganesha is different, and goes one step beyond 2005’s excellent animated film, Hanuman. The film is inspired, perhaps, by Hrithik Roshan’s recent films involving a pint-sized extra-terrestrial (Koi Mil Gaya) and an all-Indian superhero (Krrish), both of which capitalized on the universal fantasy-watching demographic. In the affirmatively kid-friendly My Friend Ganesha, daydreaming is perfectly ok, standing up to bullies is a given, and teaming up with the cartoon manifestation of a certain playful, elephant-headed god is especially encouraged.
Balancing live action with perfectly interjected animated sequences (remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), My Friend Ganesha finds eight-year-old Ashu (Channa, also in Vaastu Shastra and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), a nerdy Mumbai school kid determined to stand up to a schoolyard bully. When his school bus breaks down during a flood-inducing downpour, Ashu rescues a mouse from drowning in the ever-rising monsoon waters. This act of kindness gets noticed in the lofty Himalayan mountain abode of the gods, where the divine elephant-headed wonder child decides to join up with Ashu for a few days of boy-boy bonding.
As playful as director Ruia makes it all seem—Ganesha attempting conversation in English and gliding through the Himalayas on a snowboard are amusing—there is enough room for a moral message.
How Ashu finds inner strength to confront his schoolyard nemesis, and how Ashu’s secular two-income, white-collar, nuclear Indian family rediscovers their Hindu roots, are messages as relevant and refreshing in America as in India.